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What's Holy?

What's Holy?

"What is this madness that has overtaken the rest of the world? I believe the correct Jewish response is not to point fingers, but rather to introspect."

by Saul Behr

It's been a traumatic time for Israel, and for Jews around the world. One minute, we were gazing starry-eyed at the prospect of a real peace with the Palestinians – the next, we were staring down the barrel of a war.

What also took us by surprise was the way the rest of the world reacted. We hadn't had time to blink, and the UN had passed yet another resolution condemning Israel and ignoring atrocities perpetrated by the other side. The world media (CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP etc.) unequivocally decided that Israel was squarely to blame for everything. We have never, in this generation, seen such blatantly anti-Israel (if not anti-Semitic) media coverage. Nor have we seen such intransigence, and imperviousness to logic or reasoned argument from the world in general.

The insult of all insults, now Yasser Arafat will have us believe that Jerusalem is not sacred to Jews at all – and that the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple, is in fact a sacred Muslim shrine.

And the media laps this up! They even have started referring to the Temple Mount and the Kotel by their recently manufactured Arabic names!

You can argue your heart out, bring any proofs you want that the situation is, at the very least, not solely the fault of Israel – but your words fall on deaf ears. It's almost eerie, how irrationally anti-Israel the whole world has suddenly become!

Naturally this is coupled with a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide. Synagogues have been attacked, cemeteries defiled, Jewish civilians assaulted – and the world is silent.

What on earth is going on? What is this madness that has overtaken the rest of the world?

I believe the correct Jewish response, in a time like this, is not to point fingers, but rather to introspect. The Almighty does not bring about anything by chance – there must be a reason why this is all happening.

I have a suspicion that one of the first clues comes from the mouths of our attackers themselves: "Jerusalem is not holy to the Jews."

Maybe Arafat is right. Jerusalem is not holy to us. It's a cultural centre, a tourist destination, a place to which we feel a vague warm and fuzzy connection.

What is holy to us? Our careers? Our luxurious lifestyles? Our material possessions?

Have we forgotten our own heritage, and worshipped foreign gods – the gods of materialism, ambition... and yes, modern democracy? Have we forgotten the Western Wall, and embraced the West – to the extent that even our own Torah is judged by how well it fits in with contemporary democratic principles?

Have we not learnt from history? Do we not yet realize that every time we have looked to foreign ideologies, those ideologies themselves have been the instruments of our retribution? Look at Hellenism: first we embraced it, then the Greeks attempted to destroy us. Jews were among the forerunners of the Communist movement – and the most severely targeted by Stalin's purges. The Reform Movement of the 19th century proclaimed Berlin "the new Jerusalem" – and the Germans of the 20th century proclaimed it Judenrein.

And today, we steadfastly cleave to the West's noble democratic principles as the very essence of our identity. Our life goal is the pursuit of happiness, with all our rights entrenched in democratically defined constitutions and Bills of Rights. The pinnacle of democracy, the United States, is Israel's greatest ally.

How much does it take for even our precious cup of democracy to become poison in our mouths? Adolf Hitler was elected by a democracy. The United Nations itself is a form of democracy. And now, even the United States has abandoned us in the last UN vote. What is going to come? Will the UN democratically decide to send democratic troops to invade Israel and protect the poor, persecuted (democratic) Palestinians from the bloodthirsty Israeli menace?

"Now where are your gods that you made for yourself?" cried Jeremiah (2:28). "Let them arise if they can save you in the time of your distress!"

Where is our proud democratic world now? Heaping insult, hatred and abuse on us! Where is the USA now, quietly abstaining while the rest of the world openly declares its contempt for us? If, God forbid, this escalates into a full-blown war, will they fight for us against 400 million Arabs?

If history teaches us anything, it is this: when it comes down to the moment of truth, we Jews are alone in this world. We are even more repulsive to the world when we attempt to ingratiate ourselves into our host nations, and adopt their customs and beliefs. Esav sonei et Ya'akov – Esau (the West) hates Jacob. Instinctively, irrationally, passionately. And we are seeing this principle, in the flesh, right now.

In that moment of truth, when the whole world has turned on us, where do we stand? Do we continue to close our eyes and scream our allegiance to Western democracy?

Or do we return to ourselves, and pledge our faithfulness to the Judaism that has held us together as a people for over 3000 years?

If anything positive has emerged from this crisis, it is exactly this: the galvanization of Jewish identity among our people. Since the violence broke out, my email box has been flooded with mass mailings from a large number of concerned people – people who rarely get involved in politics, people who don't often write to me, people who don't normally send group mail, people whose everyday connection to Judaism is tenuous at best.

My friends, brothers, sisters, this is a time when we need to put aside our differences, and unite as a people. Stop criticizing and apologizing for Israel – Heaven knows there are enough of our enemies doing that already. Be proud of Israel! Be proud of your identity! Stop groveling to the whims of the world!

We are Jews. Not Communists, not Democrats, not Liberals, not Conservatives. We are Jews. We have been for 3,000 years, and we're not stopping now.
We are Jews. We pray for Israel, to the G-d of Israel.
And we pledge our allegiance only to the Torah of Israel.

"Israel Diary" is a forum where people across the spectrum can express their thoughts and views on life in Israel. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Submissions should be sent to:

November 4, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) Steve Ganot, November 13, 2000 12:00 AM

Very silly, and dangerous, too

I have not read something this silly in a very long time.

For all his enthusiastic cheerleading about dumping democracy and adopting -- um, something else -- Saul Behr doesn't offer one single coherent idea. What exactly is supposed to replace our "allegiance to Western democracy" and how can we be sure that it too is not a foreign ideology that will ultimately be the "instrument of our retribution"?

Behr says "We are Jews. Not Communists, not Democrats, not Liberals, not Conservatives. We are Jews." Fine. But "Jews" is not a political ideology and "Jews" has no well-defined political content. Over the past few thousand years, Jewish religious authorities, philosophers, and political leaders have written endlessly about developing authentic, autonomous, and meaningful "Jewish political thought," but so far no consensus has formed about what that means. Thus, there are about as many models of the ideal Jewish regime as there are Jewish political thinkers. Meanwhile, we've got a country to run. What exactly is he proposing, and what makes it "Jewish"?

What makes him think that it is our so-called allegiance to Western democracy that is at the heart of the problems he describes? What about democracy is so bad? If Israel were not a democracy, Arafat would stop calling the Temple Mount "Haram al-Sharif" (which, by the way, is hardly "recently manufactured")???

As he says, "when it comes down to the moment of truth, we Jews are alone in this world." So why not be liberal and democratic? If we were a fascist state, as Behr might like, we would be similarly alone. No, we would be much more alone, because our best friend in this world -- which happens to be the sole superpower -- would abandon us. So would most Jews, and for good reason... We might as well choose the system that most of us prefer, which is democracy.

(12) michael gelbart, November 12, 2000 12:00 AM

anti semitism is also anti-Arab sentiment; lets not feed

I agree with you about unity, but must it necessarily take the form of us (unified Jews) vs them (the rest of the goyim)? Polarization is already the problem, we don't need more divisiveness. Respecting others rights does not have to be grovelling; we can remain self-affirming in the face of denial, not so much with an uproar (although this is occasionally necessary) but with solid, firm clarity.

(11) Olga Ladorenko, November 9, 2000 12:00 AM

Dear Sir,
I am not a Jew but I fully agree with your article - I share your feelings about the way the world reacts on what is happenning. I think this is the general nature of Western (or may be world) politics - to sacrifice human values for sake of "political interests" and "play for power". When Stalin made one big concentration camp out of Russia - the Western world didn't care; when Hitler started hunting the whole Jewish nation - the same carelessness; when Chineese took Tibet in 1947 killing more than one million people - no one moved a finger. OK Arabs are 400 millions and they control oil - is this a fair price to close our eyes on what is going on and loose the ability to separate Good from Evil? That is the shame for everyone - and the real tragedy for Israel. For two thousand years Jewish people didn't have their homeland. At last they got their land - got as a desert, "tohe u-vohu", and started turning it back into a blossoming garden - and immediately Arabs grad half of it, taking genuine Jewish lands of Judea and Samaria and historical Jewish cities like Bethlehem, Jerico and Hebron. Arabs have 22 countries - this one is the land of Jews. I was in Israel in 1997 - I went back to Russia as a Zionist. I think Jews and Israel match each other as the key and the lock. Jews change physically when they come there, as if they expose their best potential.

(10) betti miner, November 9, 2000 12:00 AM

Distorted and biased news media.

I agree with Saul Behr. I have a deep and profound love for Israel, as does my husband. We hope to make aliyah in the not-too-distant future. As for Yasser Arafat, he has lost the support of his own Palestinan people. They do not listen to him anymore, and he is in fear of his life. He plans to flee to Yemen or Iraq, does he think Saddam will protect him? Saul's words make a lot of sense. I have found that the news I get from Israel via the VJ newsletters, are more accurate than on CNN, BBC and any of the other stations tell a completely different story. How can they just sit there with the distortions they espouse? I believe in being "right up front", and not have the facts sugar-coated, no matter what the story may be. We Jews were put on this earth to do good deeds, and G-d won't let us down not even for a second, and we are to help even the Arabs even when they spit in our faces, spit on our flag (both American and Israeli), walk on them, etc. They are G-d's children too. We have to make peace and heal any strife that occurs in Eretz Yisrael.

(9) Israel Bar-Nir, November 9, 2000 12:00 AM

A misrepresention of the facts!

What is going on now and has been going on in the recent past, IS in fact the peace that has been so much talked about during the last seven years. Calling it by any other name is a continuation of the denial of reality typical of the advocates of Oslo.
We may not like it but this will not change reality. We had better get used to it. Arafat has been telling us all along that this is what he had in mind for us but we refused to listen. I don't believe any one is really taken by surprise, least of all any of the Oslo pepetrators.

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